One Voice

… because one voice, armed with the truth, can help begin to heal the world.

We all have memories of a few Christmases past

I was trying to remember my first Christmas as an adult, the first one I didn’t celebrate at my parents’ house or my grandparents’ house.

It was 1975, although you could argue 1971 on a technicality. I was still living at home in 1971, but the rest of my family went to Russia with a tour group. I got together with three other friends — my closest friends — whose families were also away. We worked together and did a Christmas dinner at my friend Mick’s house. Mick and my two Chris friends — one Christine and one Christopher — filled out the group. I think I can safely say without fear of excessive chauvinism that we were fortunate to have a female in our group.

My first apartment -- 35 years later.

That was really just Christmas dinner, though. My first real Christmas in my own place, with decorations and everything, came in 1975.

We had moved into a new development outside Herndon, Va. The apartments in Stuart Woods were brand new. A one-bedroom unit was $230. It was the only apartment I ever had with its own washer and dryer. We moved there in February, we got married in April and we lived there till May 1976. She commuted to Langley and I commuted to the Ballston neighborhood in Arlington.

I don’t know if we had any problem-free years in our marriage. We were together for less than five years; we probably married too young. It’s as good an excuse for failure as any. It’s funny how 37 years later, I have little memory of where in our living room we put our Christmas tree. Maybe we didn’t. Ironically, it was the only Christmas we celebrated together in the United States. In 1976 we were in Austria and in 1977 we were in London for Christmas week.

She spent Christmas of ’78 on temporary duty in Beijing and she went to Nevada to spend the ’79 holidays with her parents. In January 1980 we split for good.

Regrets? Yes and no. I doubt that a thoughtful person could fail to regret a marriage that didn’t work, but on the other hand, I have spent the last 21 Christmases married to the real love of my life.

Lex this Christmas.

If there is a sadness at all, it comes when I see my two grandchildren celebrating their first Christmases, Madison in 2009 (at 15 months) and Lexington this year (at 13 1/2 months). My first Christmas with my wonderful children came when Pauline was already 12 and Virgile was nearly 8.

Seeing pictures of the grandkids with the gifts we gave them is so wonderful. In the picture here, Lex is pushing a cart we gave him for Christmas and wearing a Georgia Tech football jersey we gave him for his first birthday in November.

Christmas is pretty wonderful when you have children or grandchildren, but it was also pretty special when I was first on my own and never dreaming that a marriage could end in the most excruciating pain. I don’t think of her all that much, but there are times I wonder what it would have been like to hold a baby in my arms and know that it was my child, not my grandchild.

I am a very fortunate man. I have two wonderful children who look at me and see a father, not a stepfather. I could never love a child more than I love Pauline and Virgile, and I could never love a grandchild more than I love Maddie or Lex.

I know it all worked out for the best.

No question at all.

That doesn’t keep the “what ifs” from popping into my mind once in a while. In the end, I guess I’m only human.

posted by Mike in Christmas,Family,Friends,Happiness,Holidays,love,memories and have No Comments

Too many folks don’t pay attention to their vows

When you’re young and you marry, it’s all about the good times.

Unless you’re somehow forced by circumstances, you marry someone because you are happier with them than without them and you are optimistic that things will get even better the longer you two are together.

In sickness and in health

When you’re young, marriage is maybe the ultimate act of belief in the future.

You say the vows — better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health — but you don’t really believe anything bad will happen. You’re in it for better, for richer, for health and if any of that bad stuff happens, you’ll deal with it with all the invincibility of youth.

It’s different when you’re older. When you marry past 40, you carry the baggage of previous failure and the awareness that bad things happen as well as good things and you may not be able to control very much about either.

If your life has gone at all according to plan, richer or poorer may not be as much of a factor as when you’re younger, but health is much more likely to come into play. My good friend Mick and his wife have been married for nearly 33 years and both are dealing with health problems.

For the last six years of my father’s life, my mother was his 24/7 caregiver. She was only a year younger than he was and not in the best health herself, but she gave everything she had to help him. I don’t think there’s any better way to show love for someone than that, and I wonder how many of us could do something like that for as long as she did.

I know I couldn’t. I have such admiration for her efforts, and also for the help my sisters and my brother gave her. But I also know none of them considered it a chore, an imposition or even hard work. When someone you dearly love needs your help, there really isn’t any question whether or not you will help them.

Sickness or health never came into play in my first marriage. I was 25 and she was 21 when we took our vows, and I wasn’t even 30 when it all fell apart for reasons that had nothing to do with health. It was 30 years ago this spring that we spoke for the last time, nearly half a lifetime ago for me. Of course, I’m 62 now and health problems are becoming a reality both for me and for my lovely wife.

For me it’s mostly aches and pains, as well as elevated blood pressure as my weight fluctuates. I take glucosamine for my incipient arthritis, pills for my blood pressure and over-the-counter sleep aids to help me nod off at night. My wife is dealing with much more significant issues, most of them involving anxiety. At times during the last year or so, things have been extremely difficult for her.

I do what I can to help, and we seems to have made at least some progress. I’ll be damned if I give myself any credit for it. When you have one failed marriage in your past, all you’re really trying to do is get even. I love her, though, and I’ll be here as long as she wants me and I’m still drawing breath.

That’s what “in sickness or in health” is all about.









posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,Health,love and have No Comments

Yesterday’s comic relief can be today’s truth

“We’re all strangers, but after a while you get used to it. You become deeper strangers. That’s a sort of love.”

Richard Castellano in "Lovers and Other Strangers"

When I first saw “Lovers and Other Strangers” in 1970, I viewed the character played by Richard Castellano as the comic relief in the movie. His most frequent line was, “So what’s the story, Richie?” as he tried to find out why the older of his two sons was getting a divorce.

The last few times I’ve watched the movie — of course I have the DVD — I have actually come to realize that his character, Frank Vecchio, whose younger son is the groom in the movie that is the movie’s centerpiece, is actually the most important character of all.

He’s the one who speaks the lines at the beginning of this piece, lines that say an awful lot about what marriage in America was once — two people who shared enough and had enough in common that they could live together in relative happiness and raise a family.

My grandparents were married for nearly 65 years — from 1920 until my grandfather died in 1985 — and I can’t remember ever seeing them hug or kiss or share any other sort of physical affection. I never heard them say they loved each other, but they stayed together and I never saw any sign that they didn’t love or at least respect each other.

They stayed together.

So did most of the people I knew in my parents’ generation. Things like no-fault divorce were much more rare in those days. Indeed, in some states the only grounds for divorce was adultery. That’s the generation that Castellano’s and Bea Arthur’s characters in “Lovers and Other Strangers” inhabited. When Frank explains to his son Richie what people could share other than sex — a love for good food, for example — it sounded hilarious to those of us who were 20 years old in 1970.

But they made a commitment and they kept it. Unlike my generation; too many of us took the attitude not of “till death do us part” but instead “stay with it till it’s no fun, then split.”

That was why my first marriage essentially lasted a little less than four years and left me on my own again before I was 30 years old.

But if you hang in there, good things happen. This November, Nicole and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, and while I have no chance to live long enough for 65 years together and only a slim chance for 50, I know I went to spend the rest of my life with her.

Yes, in some ways we are strangers. I don’t presume to understand her, although I try.

But we are deeper strangers, and that’s a sort of love.

It really is.

posted by Mike in baby boom,Family,Happiness,love,Movies and have No Comments

Time alone is ending, time together to start

It’s amazing for me to realize that tomorrow I will have completed my nine weeks of solitude here at Rancho Cortez.

I’ve still got two weeks to go before I leave for home, but Nicole arrives tomorrow to spend the next 14 days here with me. It will be wonderful to have her here, but it will be very different than it has been.

For one thing, it will be an opportunity for me to see if I really have progressed that much on an emotional and philosophical level. I believe I have, but it’s easy to talk a good game about putting other people first when you’re living alone. Starting tomorrow afternoon, I am a full-time married man again.

Me after eight weeks

I have written before about what a unique opportunity it has been to step outside my life, as it were, for more than two months and do a reassessment of where I have been, where I am and what I want to do with the years I have left to me.

The one thing I am more sure about than anything is that I want to spend those years with Nicole. She has been a wonderful wife through both good times and not-so-good times, and she has stood by me at times when I let her down very badly.

I have told her she is my favorite person in the entire world, and indeed in many ways she is my closest friend.

The next two weeks can be wonderful ones for her. Between work and all the other things going on in her life, she is dealing with more stress than I could handle — and dealing with it well.

Still, I’d love to help her have two stress-free weeks here.

That’s my goal.

posted by Mike in Family,Friends,Health,love,Texas and have No Comments

We don’t always learn when we think we do

I don’t know that anything good ever comes from two people in a marriage being apart for an extended period of time.

Missing her

My first marriage was probably doomed to fail from the start, but when we started having voluntary separations for the convenience of one or the other of us, it certainly accelerated the process.

Since Nicole and I got married in 1992, our only lengthy times apart have been when she is one business trips, and never for longer than 30 days.

Until now. My trip to Texas has been extremely productive in terms of what I have tried to accomplish, and it has been life changing in some respects, but Nicole and I have been apart for nearly eight weeks and I don’t think that has been a good thing.

It’s my fault, of course. There were changes I needed to make in my life and I was not doing a good job of accomplishing them at home. In fact, I had pretty well fallen apart since my journalism career had ended abruptly in January 2008.

So I came to Texas and things started working. In fact, so many wonderful things have happened here that I will go home a much stronger person and be much more capable of being a good husband and being happy with myself for the years ahead.

But the danger you always face when you separate voluntarily — no matter what the purpose — is that the other person might realize exactly how annoying you are and that it isn’t as bad without you as they thought it would be.

I always regretted the separations in my first marriage and figured I would learn from them.

It tells me how far I still have to go as a person that I didn’t.

posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,love and have Comment (1)

When every day is a good day, life is amazing

It is completely amazing to feel good all the time, as I have for the last 11 days.

I certainly don’t mean physically, although even that is improving rapidly. A month ago, I couldn’t hike three miles without feeling exhausted. Now I’m doing 5 1/4 miles early in the morning and feeling great (with a couple of minor exceptions). I have started carrying a tube of Ben-Gay along on my hike, and when I stop on the way back for my snack and some thinking, I rub it on my left oblique until I can feel it burning.

My left side is a lot weaker than my right, and if that big muscle doesn’t stop barking sooner or later, I might have it surgically removed. Then there’s my left Achilles tendon, which is never going to be completely normal again.

But even when I hurt, it doesn’t bother me.

Beginning and finish line

There are at least five or six places I could cut my hike short, but I don’t do it. I don’t hike just for the hiking, and cutting it short would cheat me out of all the other benefits of it — the thinking, the creativity and especially the closeness to God and nature.

This morning I was feeling particularly good, and I was thinking about how wonderful this summer has been for me. The chance to step outside my life, as it were, and fix the things that were wrong.

I owe so much to my wife for her willingness to let me do this. Nicole is my joy, and the fact that we are able to spend this time about without worrying whether we will still love each other when I return home has worked wonders for me.

Read more…

posted by Mike in Happiness,Health,in God's name,love,Music and have No Comments

Some sad news from an old friend

When you reach a certain age, and you hear from old friends, the news is just as likely to be bad as good.

You’re not hearing about great grades in school, a new job or a new love. As often as not, the news is of deaths in the family, jobs that have been lost or outsourced or long-time relationships that have come to a sad end.

Sometimes it’s even one friend telling you another has died.

I went hiking in San Antonio today just after getting some sad news from a friend I haven’t seen in nearly 40 years. She used to hang out with us in the early ’70s, until she met the love of her life and withdrew from our group. I believe they lived together for some years before they made it legal, so I don’t know how long they were actually married.

I actually don’t know much yet at all. I only know the terrible sadness that comes when love slides into indifference. I know that when love dies, it’s usually not when people are yelling at each other and angry all the time. It’s when there is nothing left to say and little or no desire to say it. The end of my failed first marriage was punctuated more by long silences than by anything else.

Of course I was 29 then, and if I didn’t believe anything good would ever happen to me again, I knew that there was plenty of time. My friend is in her late 50s, and her relationship was far longer than mine.

Whenever I think of relationships ending, I think of Harry Chapin’s wonderful song, “Last Stand.” Of course Harry died nearly 30 years ago, but I love this YouTube video of his former bandmates performing it.

A beautiful song, some sad thoughts.

To my friend, hold fast. It will get better.

posted by Mike in Friends,love and have No Comments

When the image doesn’t match the reality

“What is this thing called love?”

I Love My Wife

In the late 1970s, when I was still somewhere on the far side of innocence and naivete, I remember seeing a humorous Broadway musical titled “I Love My Wife.”

It was a typical — for that time — look at what was known by various terms as “swinging” or “wife swapping,” and of course it ended with the main character realizing that for all he liked to look at other women, he loved his wife and he didn’t want to cheat on her.

In the end, he was a good husband.

The kind of husband I always thought I would be, the kind I always wanted to be.

Yet I have failed once at marriage, and I fear beyond fear that I am slipping into a second failure, even though I have never cheated.

Of course, there’s cheating … and there’s cheating.

My lovely wife of 17 1/2 years is very unhappy with me right now. She says that I’m not affectionate, that we don’t do things together and that I would rather be alone than spend time with her. The sad thing is, even though I don’t think of myself in any of those ways, my actions speak very loudly in those areas.

On Broadway

Just the fact that I have essentially fallen apart the last two years and am now working to put myself back together, and that I am doing it 1,300 miles and three states from home says a lot. And the fact that my not being at home is a huge weight — no pun intended — off Nicole’s shoulders says even more.

I understand it. As much as it hurts, I understand it. When you love someone enough to marry them, seeing them fail or fall apart must hurt tremendously. I’m certain that the main reason my first marriage failed was that my wife looked at me four years into our marriage and saw that I had not really matured at all.

For all I can say and have said about infidelity ruining our marriage, my cheating — in the form of not progressing with life — did every bit as much damage as her sexual trysts.

Over the last year or so, Nicole has been doing more and more things to protect herself in the event I really do go over the cliff. I absolutely can’t blame her, and I understand — I really do — why she no longer trusts me or sees me as the man she fell in love with and married.

The strangest part of it is that I have actually been feeling as if I’m on something of an upturn lately. I have been feeling better about myself and I fully expect to have my weight under control by the time I leave the ranch at the end of June.

One way or another, it will matter.

One way or another, I will find a way to be the man I want to be again.

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posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,love and have No Comments

Love certainly isn’t any fairy tale

“Love is patient and is kind; love doesn’t envy. Love doesn’t brag, is not proud, doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

The biggest mistake some people make — the biggest mistake I’ve made — is looking at love from the “moons, Junes and Ferris wheels” side, listening to the final words of almost any fairy tale.

“And they lived happily ever after …”

Uh, sorry, but it doesn’t often work that way. You can stay together and be basically happy, but there are always going to be ups and downs. I remember Myrna Loy and Fredric March in the wonderful old movie “The Best Years of Our Lives” telling their daughter that there had been times in their 20-plus year marriage that they had hated each other and other times they had to fall in love all over again.

I don’t know why people expect anything different. There are days when I’m pretty lovable and there are other days when I’m such an asshole I hate myself. I’m not sure there was ever a more beautiful verse written that Paul’s comments about love in First Corinthians.

Love bears all things.

Love endures all things.

Love never fails.

That means no matter how bad a day someone is having, no matter what things they might say to you, if you love them you keep on loving them. That’s why an important part of the marriage ceremony is accepting your mate for better or for worse.

Let’s be honest. The only reason marriages fail is because one party or the other stops loving. That’s not to say you can’t walk away when you love someone. That’s exactly what I did in my first marriage. I loved her, but I knew she wasn’t going to love me anymore, so self-preservation drove me away.

That marriage didn’t last five years.

My second one — my life marriage — is working on its 18th year now, and to be honest, there have been every bit as many ups and downs. But there has been no lack of commitment on either side, and there is no lack of love.

In the end, Paul had it right.

Love never fails.

posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,love and have No Comments

Were we too sloppy in relationships?

I often spend a lot of time wondering about things that can do me absolutely no good.

I know people who have been married multiple times — which I define as “more than two” — and I sometimes find myself wondering what it is they’re doing. Most of us who have been divorced fit into two categories. There are those who wanted to end the marriage and those who didn’t. It might seem logical to say that those numbers would be equal, but there are certainly plenty of marriages in which both people decided it just wasn’t working out.

For whatever reason, my questions on this subject are directed at the ones who wanted out, the ones who felt the proverbial grass was greener over in the next valley. I have one friend who is now happily married to his fourth wife and I pray it lasts. My own guess is that once the divorces get past one, it becomes easier and easier to call it quits. That’s one reason why during my own single years between marriages, I didn’t date women who had been divorced two or more times.

I’m an extremely lucky man. I have been married for more than 17 years to my second wife, and there is no doubt in my mind that Nicole and I will be together until at least one of us is no longer living. But neither one of us was the one who wanted the divorces that ended our first marriages, so we still believe in the “death do us part” part of it. Both of our children are married, and we hope with all our hearts that they got it right on the first try.

Oddly enough, my daughter got me thinking about this. She told Nicole that her first husband — the children’s birth father — considered her the “one who got away.” He has been divorced twice and is currently living with a third woman. My own first wife is married for the third time, although I know nothing else about her life other than that and I haven’t spoken to her for nearly 28 years. I doubt she thinks I’m the one who got away.

The woman of my dreams

The woman of my dreams

But I’ve often wondered — as in the case of my friend married four times — if he wishes he had stayed with his first wife … or his second. I wonder if a lot of us who came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when relationships became oddly casual, didn’t know what we had when we had it.

I wonder if maybe we were a little too concerned with looking for magic and thowing away things that might have been perfectly nice. We were the generation that was going to be different, and I wonder if we just got sloppy and lazy instead. My own parents stayed together for 52 years in a marriage that ended only when my dad died. The only way I’ll have 52 years with my wonderful Nicole is if we both live to be nearly 95 years old.

I hope it happens, although I’m enough of a child of the ’60s to be horrified at the thought of being 95. You know the saying.

“Hope I die before I get old …”

Oh well.

posted by Mike in baby boom,love,The Sixties and have No Comments
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